Friday, 28 June 2013

Review - A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin


A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2)

Goodreads description: Time is out of joint. The summer of peace and plenty, ten years long, is drawing to a close, and the harsh, chill winter approaches like an angry beast. Two great leaders—Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon—who held sway over and age of enforced peace are dead...victims of royal treachery. Now, from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns, as pretenders to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms prepare to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war. 

As a prophecy of doom cuts across the sky—a comet the color of blood and flame—six factions struggle for control of a divided land. Eddard’s son Robb has declared himself King in the North. In the south, Joffrey, the heir apparent, rules in name only, victim of the scheming courtiers who teem over King’s Landing. Robert’s two brothers each seek their own dominion, while a disfavored house turns once more to conquest. And a continent away, an exiled queen, the Mother of Dragons, risks everything to lead her precious brood across a hard hot desert to win back the crown that is rightfully hers. 

A Clash of Kings transports us into a magnificent, forgotten land of revelry and revenge, wizardry and wartime. It is a tale in which maidens cavort with madmen, brother plots against brother, and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside. 

Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, the price of glory may be measured in blood. And the spoils of victory may just go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel...and the coldest hearts. For when rulers clash, all of the land feels the tremors. 

Audacious, inventive, brilliantly imagined, A Clash of Kings is a novel of dazzling beauty and boundless enchantment—a tale of pure excitement you will never forget.

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The second volume of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire saga is even thicker and more complex than the first, and in my opinion, it takes longer to get to the main action, but the climactic battle is all the more effective for it. A Clash of Kings picks up where the first book left off, with the Kingdom of Westeros in chaos as the death of King Robert, which has sparked a fight for the Iron Throne.

King Robert’s young son currently has a tenuous grip on the throne, but rumours of incest between Queen Cersei Lannister and her twin brother Jaime threaten the stability of his throne. Lord Stannis and his younger brother Renly also fight over the throne, the former assisted by a sinister magic-user. Robb Stark, son of the murdered former Hand of the King, seeks revenge for his father’s death. And meanwhile, Daenarys, accompanied by her newly hatched dragons, tries to gain allies to take back her family’s kingdom.

Martin expertly weaves the different characters’ storylines together, including the witty and intelligent dwarf Tyrion Lannister, who takes up a new role as Joffrey’s Hand, and Arya Stark, who flees her father’s murderers by posing as an orphan boy. Her sister Sansa, formerly betrothed to Joffrey, is now a victim of his wrath, and her younger brother Bran may know the truth about the Lannisters. And are his sinister dreams a warning of what is to come? His elder brother Jon Snow and the rest of the Night’s Watch attempt to find their missing members in the forests, and to stem the threat of the Wildlings that try to breach the Wall.

It took me longer to get into this than the first book, and the introduction of so many new characters was a bit confusing (possibly because I’ve yet to watch Season Two of the TV series). But the pace soon picked up, and I found myself struggling to decide whose side to take. I think Martin’s point is that there is no right side in war. Tyrion is one of the most interesting and compelling characters, yet he fights on the side of the cruel and merciless Lannisters. As before, Martin does not shy away from inflicting brutality on his characters, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and some of the twists were genuinely shocking. Ruthlessly engaging, this is an unmissable fantasy saga.

Rating: ****

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